As part of our ongoing long-term plans for the future, we’ve been making exciting developments across the zoo. The plan is designed to enhance our position as one of the world’s best conservation, animal and leisure attractions, between now and 2030. Below is the latest update on our developments…
A brand new habitat for the zoo’s Asiatic lions is taking shape.
This expansive zone will span 4,790 square metres and is inspired by the dry forest and savannah habitats of Gir National Park in India, the only place in the world where Asiatic lions still range. The habitat has been specially created for the lions and will be a boost to our work within the European endangered species breeding programme.
The build started in November last year and, as Christine Holt, Lead Project Manager explains, transforming a Cheshire field into the Gir Forest has been no easy feat:
“Lions have been at the zoo since the 1930s and they have always resided next to The Oakfield. Creating a brand new lion habitat in a new area has therefore been an interesting and exciting project but it also comes with its challenges.
“The first was to make this little slice of Cheshire, complete with its wet clay, into the dry arid landscape of the Gir Forest in India. We are reforming parts of the landscape by planting tree species with small leaves, multiple stems and thorns and placing these irregularly to give a scrubby, light forest feel. None of the plant species which grow in the Gir Forest would thrive in the UK climate, but we have included a few other Asian species, such as Japanese pagoda tree, Pride of India and Persian ironwood, which are all fully hardy. We’ll also develop sandier areas for the lions to enjoy, close to the public viewing spots, and sand-coloured pathways in visitor areas are designed specially to blend in, helping people feel immersed into the landscape. This really helps us to connect people with wildlife.
“Visitors will experience really different viewing opportunities of this beautiful species. We have installed a hot rock to encourage the lions to stay close to the viewing areas, and give visitors the opportunity to get up-close.”
“Also incorporated into the large outside savannah area are mounds for the lions to rest on. These are high up and will provide the lions with a unique perceptive on their habitat. Opposite this will be a mound for visitors to stand on, which will give people the opportunity to be at the same height as this stunning species. The large outdoor space will provide many enrichment opportunities for the lions, with a water hole, cave-like shelter and a zip wire for meat distribution to various points within the paddock. These all combine to provide world class husbandry facilities. There will also be opportunities to see the lions outside and in a covered indoor area, which will also be home to a family of mongoose.
“When building we were always mindful of the conservation storyline that’s intertwined into the exhibit. Throughout this habitat, visitors will learn about the ecosystem of the Gir Forest which is home to the lion population and the local community, the Maldhari. There will be stories woven into the exhibit showing how the Maldhari live alongside lions, sharing the positive message that predators and humans can co-exist in thesame space.
“Once the build has been completed we’ll hand over the habitat to the animal team to prepare it for the lions moving in. At that point we’ll then start connecting this new area to the rest of the zoo. A new visitor pathway will be created near to the butterfly house, winding through the zoo’s current perimeter fence to the new lion habitat. When you start to see this development in the zoo, you know we’re nearly ready!”
The new lion habitat is NOW OPEN so come and see these incredible animals like never before!